The myth of zero tolerance 2 corruption

By Prabhakar Timble
13 November 2012 04:43 IST

For over 365 days, unfailing daily exposures about graft has brought the issue of corruption centre stage. This is an honest effort of the vocal and economically stable middle class to convince the nation of impoverished that corruption is the main cause of poverty. It is also a frank attempt to showcase how elections and representative democracy turns out to be a farce due to the abuse of money resulting from such ill-gotten wealth. The middle class along with the media which primarily serves the interests of this class have created mirages that battle on corruption ipso facto is a war on poverty. Further, the artillery for success in this battle is in the form of grenades in media and installation of a rule under a Commander-in-chief christened as the Lok Pal.

The myths x-rayed

Though I agree that corruption is an issue, it needs to be dealt as an economic offence with the main punishment of confiscation of illegal and dishonest wealth, I wish to submit that zero corruption and even zero tolerance to corruption is a myth. I also add that focus needs to be on development, equity, transparency and environment. If we fully concentrate our forces and resources on legal megalith with the conviction that corruption would be dethroned we will be caught in the net of an unachievable paradise. It is almost like the promised heaven or hell as the final abode of the soul. Illegality and graft needs to be answered through openness and reforms in governance and economy. The reply to poverty can be only through direct development of target segment respecting equity and environment rather than embracing the trickle-down approach to growth.

The singular attack has been on the elected politicians despite the fact that bureaucrats in administration and bureaucrats in robes have equally greased their palms in corruption. All forms of corruption found in public administration and officialdom are also present in equal measure amongst the so termed professional managers in the private sector. Though largely true, I dare not say that bribery and corruption are as old as the hills and that both move hand in gloves with public expenditure and private sector investment. Faster economic growth is normally associated with an equally faster rise in corruption. Instances of corruption hindering economic growth are unheard. However, distortions could occur and illegalities too creep in. The required corrections need to be made by regulatory mechanisms which should be “authorities” independent of the government. But, no system can be full proof as the question of regulating the regulator would continue to remain unanswered.

Whatever exposures on alleged corruption put up for public scrutiny are all those in respect of illegalities and violations of rules and provisions of laws. In majority of cases, the stampede on rules was possible due to lack of transparency or secretive nature of transactions and contracts. These are instances of high level corruption or scams in terms of size, volume and ramifications.

Much of the corruption at lower levels of governance is done by adhering to all rules and committing no illegalities. The corruption in the form of “speed money” is rampant at the district, municipal and panchayat level wherein the citizen is forced to offer bribes, though no rules are flouted by the giver as also the taker. This is common in the matter of issue of ration card, birth testimonials, residence certificates, income endorsements and registration of documents. What is needed here is simplification of procedures and time-bound disposal with heavy penalties on public officers for non-compliance within the prescribed time. Investigation and punishment following due process of law cannot arrest corruption of such forms since these mechanisms demand the time of the citizen. Probably, transparency and e-governance could be better solutions to deal with corruption at lower levels of governance.

The revelations and disclosures of corruption in public offices are making the case of privatisation of public operations. The middle class is getting convinced that pruning government expenditure and public investment with bigger role for private sector in public and merit goods/services would promote efficiency and curb corruption. A deeper insight into this would reveal that privatisation in the present “empires” of the public sector would mean higher cost of services and goods to citizens. However, corruption would stand safe, probably in a different bottle. The middle class and the upper income strata would welcome privatisation and may even accept corruption as long as it is not done by public men and public officers.

The root is inequity

Corruption thrives when the roots of the economy are deep in the well of income and wealth inequalities. Underdevelopment, inequalities and denial of opportunities to majority along with a super affluent minority and a middle class which only gains, never loses is what our country and economy is today. No amount of exposures of political class and setting up of the Lok Pal machinery would show even a semblance of zero tolerance to corruption.

I know that I run the risk of taking an unpopular stand since I am reluctant to satisfy the middle class which has been vocal on corruption. The conservative and equally vocal Hindus will always beat the drum of secularism as the cause of mess of the Indian society and polity. For them secularism is anti-Hindu rather than the ideal of free and democratic India.The forward classes hammer reservations and protective discrimination as the reason for falling efficiency and standards in public offices and administration. For the middle class it is corruption and monies stacked in foreign banks which explain the sickness of Indian economy and politics. To me, it is poverty, dispossession and disempowerment which should still be the central agenda. The way in which the present crusade is being shaped against corruption can at best stall public investment and decision-making in the immediate short run. It would be a fruitless exercise to superimpose zero tolerance to corruption as our priority in governance as opposed to equity in development and environment.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

It is the corruption that is the cause for poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and increasing crimes...It is the corruption which is discouraging potential investors from investing in this Country...If the evil of corruption is destroyed---the country will progress with much rapid pace and stop the migration of the honest intellectuals who hate corruption....Corruption can never be justified. It is the biggest evil....We need to condemn it in no uncertain terms...

- vishwas prabhudesai, loliem | 14 th November 2012 10:06


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